An eight-team College Football Playoff would level playing fields

An eight-team College Football Playoff would level playing fields
Ohio State, whose players are celebrating a 49-37 victory at Michigan State on Nov. 8, could win out, claim the Big Ten title and get a big nothing when it comes to a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff. (Joe Robbins / Getty Images)

The College Football Playoff is a 12-year arrangement still three weeks from naming its first four-team field, and people are already calling for change.

Four, it seems, might not be enough.


And no, that sentiment does not come from the caffeine-addled, hyperactive types who can't wait for the next Apple product.

It comes from John Swofford, who as commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference was one of the five power-league commanders who helped usher in the four-team playoff.

Swofford and others would like to see the size of the playoff doubled, to eight teams.

"In terms of number of teams, it would probably be ideal," Swofford said this week.

With four teams, Swofford is already anticipating calamities to come. "Whoever's the fifth or sixth [team] is not going to be happy," he said.

Spin report: Swofford was speaking to his ACC base at a luncheon of the North Carolina Sports Club, and he had a clear agenda. He is the commissioner of the weakest power conference and he knows the ACC's playoff buggy is hitched to one team.

His bottom drops out after No. 3 Florida State, the only ACC team in the top 17 of the playoff rankings.

Swofford also knows the ACC is in trouble once Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston heads for the NFL.

An eight-team format is good for Swofford because it would award an automatic playoff spot, no matter the record or ranking, to each of the five power-league conferences.

Yet his idea, beyond the provincialism and propaganda, makes sense. The four-team playoff is an awkward concept because the conferences refuse to play by the same set of rules.

Let's examine this week's top 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings:

The Southeastern Conference has schools ranked first (Alabama), fourth (Mississippi State), eighth (Mississippi) and 10th (Georgia).

Yet, the SEC plays only eight conference games in a 14-team league. That allows the league the luxury of presenting this week's embarrassing fare of games against lower-level teams: Western Carolina at Alabama, Eastern Kentucky at Florida, Charleston Southern at Georgia, Samford at Auburn.

Everyone loses in this except the SEC team that can move up in the rankings based on a cream puff victory.


•The Big 12 Conference has schools ranked fifth (Texas Christian) and seventh (Baylor).

The Big 12 plays a nine-game, round-robin conference schedule but is the only Power Five league without a championship game.

•The Pac-12 Conference has teams ranked second (Oregon) and ninth (UCLA).

The Pac-12 plays a nine-game league schedule and a championship game.

•Florida State, at No. 3, represents the ACC, which, like the SEC, plays eight league games and a title game.

•Ohio State checks in at No. 6 for the Big Ten, which plays an eight-game league schedule now, but is moving to nine in 2016.

The question is, can the selection committee truly pick a Fair Four with these differences?

The eight-team drumbeat has started because, above all else, it immediately levels the fields by eliminating the need to make all the conferences play fair.

Settle your league any way you want.

An eight-team playoff would give automatic bids to the champions of the five power leagues, with three at-large selections. It would not diminish the cherished regular season and actually increases the access points for Group of Five league outsiders such as Boise State.

An eight-team playoff could easily be implemented keeping the current structure of using the major bowls as semifinal games: bracket eight teams instead of four and give home-field advantage to the top four.

Using this week's rankings for the quarterfinals, No. 1 Alabama would host No. 8 Mississippi, No. 2 Oregon would host No. 7 Baylor, No. 3 Florida State would host No. 6 Ohio State and No. 4 Mississippi State would host No. 5 TCU. The winners would advance to semifinals at the Rose and Sugar bowls.

Too many extra games, you say? Then allow schools to play 11 regular-season games instead of 12 if they choose.

The best part: an eight-team playoff would eliminate the need for SEC schools to schedule the patsy opponents we're forced to watch this weekend.

College football officials maintain the four-team playoff is not a steppingstone to a larger field. So it must have been a shock that one of their own, Swofford, would go rogue so soon.

The rest of the flock may come around, but it will be on their sweet time, not ours. Caving to public demand is not in the commissioners' nature.

Remember, it took them 16 years to agree the Bowl Championship Series was a bad idea.